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Taxpayer Money Being Used to Spy on Kids’ Social Media Activity

Taxpayer Money Being Used to Spy on Kids’ Social Media Activity

Good idea or a step too far?

Florida might be a tax friendly state, but it’s not very privacy friendly — at least not for the kiddos.

Orange County (home to Orlando) schools recently re-upped a partnership with SnapTrends, a software that monitors student social media activity.

Karen Turner writes at the Washington Post:

SnapTrends collects data from public posts on students’ social media accounts by scanning for keywords that signify cases of cyberbullying, suicide threats, or criminal activity. School security staff then comb through flagged posts and alert police when they see fit. Research suggests that 23 percent of children and teens have been cyberbullied. Studies connecting social media and suicide have not shown definitive results, but there has been research that suggests that cyberbullying leads to suicide ideation more than traditional bullying.

Orange County Public Schools adopted the SnapTrends program as part of a “prevention and early intervention” program. After the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in 2012, the school participated in a sweeping technical review with law enforcement and state emergency experts with a focus on safety. They recommended some sort of social media monitoring program, saying that threats can sometimes be spotted on social media postings. “We felt we needed to deal with these vulnerabilities,” Shari Bobinski, who manages media relations in the school system, told The Washington Post.

Orange County schools said that since implementing the software last year, it has run 2,504 automated searches, leading to 215 manual searches by school staff. Details of the 12 police investigations that stemmed from searches in the past year have not been divulged by the school system. The school system told the Orlando Sentinel that it doesn’t want public details of the program to interfere with its effectiveness.

Bobinski, however, shared one anecdote from last year. The software flagged a female student for using the keyword “cutting” and the phrase “nobody will miss me.” Since the software gets a huge number of flags for words and phrases like these, the security staff delved deeper, investigating more posts by the student. They discovered that she had two conflicting social media accounts: one that told the story of a happy, normal girl, and the other of someone suffering from suicidal thoughts and depression. The school staff alerted police, who conducted a welfare check at the student’s home and informed her father. She eventually went into treatment.

That’s all well and good, but what students do outside of school isn’t the concern of the school. Yet the continued monitoring of their social media habits allows schools to keep tabs on kids after hours. Social media posts hardly tell the whole story, after all.

Shear also expressed fears of the inevitability of highly intrusive monitoring, such as collecting data on students during after-school hours or off school property. A software flag would require school staff and possibly police to track a student more closely. In Bobinski’s story of the suicidal student in Orange County, the original flag was set off on school property (SnapTrend’s “geofencing” technology limits monitoring within a locational boundary), but investigators delved into her public posts from after-school hours as the checked into her mental health status.

For Shear, the allocation of $18,000 in school funds to implement SnapTrends that could be used for digitally minded education is particularly vexing. “[Schools] are not providing children the tools needed to protect their reputation, their privacy and to understand the law. Everything that these kids are doing online might have repercussions down the road,” he said.

“I think that’s something that’s missing in the conversation,” Shear continued. “I think that these companies are preying on the fears of these parents.”

Anything posted to the internet ought to be assumed public. But the problem with the Orange Counties of the world is that they blur the line between the school’s responsibility to monitor child behavior and the obligation of the parents. And it’s the parents who are paying for this overstep.

Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye

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Comments

Somebody needs to put a stop to this.

What my children do or say outside school is none of their freaking business. What I say or do is none of their freaking business.

If this works out, the Feds can step it up to monitoring the rest of us.

[T]he problem with the Orange Counties of the world is that they blur the line between the school’s responsibility to monitor child behavior and the obligation of the parents.

The school systems have long been eroding parents’ rights and encroaching themselves into the responsibilities of parents. This is nothing new. In the collectivist utopian vision, children don’t belong to their parents; they belong to the community, which is run by the community leaders and “community organizers”, which includes school administrators. As the logic goes, “You didn’t build that.” Why shouldn’t that apply equally to your businesses AND your kids?

And it’s the parents who are paying for this overstep.

It always is. The school administrators get to claim all the power and authority, and stick someone else with all the responsibility. If you believe that, “With great power comes great responsibility” (and there’s no greater power or responsibility than raising the next generation), you are a social problem from which your kids need protection until it (you) can be fixed.

It’s not a flaw in the system, it’s a feature. And again, this is nothing new.

    gibbie in reply to Archer. | April 27, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    “The school systems have long been eroding parents’ rights and encroaching themselves into the responsibilities of parents.”

    And parents have been cheerfully handing their responsibilities to the government monopoly bureaucratic schooling system.

    Mal 4:5-6.
    5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6 He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

    We’re overdue for a smiting.

I can see both sides of this. The fundamental problem I have with the entire idea is that I live in California, and I know what these school officials are like. This kind of power absolutely requires the use of good judgment, which in my experience is in tragically short supply at both the middle and high school levels.

    CountMontyC in reply to Valerie. | April 27, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    I would not worry if I believed it would only ever be limited in it’s use to protect the children at school or school sponsored events but I don’t believe that. I believe they will expand it over time to promote their social justice policies

” After the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in 2012, the school participated in a sweeping technical review with law enforcement and state emergency experts with a focus on safety.”

I was not aware that Adam Lanza announced on any social media his plans to kill Mommy, steal her guns and then shoot up the local elementary school.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/18/tech/social-media/newtown-social-media-crime/

Perhaps this social media scrutiny is misdirected, much like someone looking for a missing coin at night under the lamp post because the lighting is better there, despite the coin being dropped elsewhere?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2516427/Sandy-Hook-shooter-Adam-Lanza-83k-online-kills-massacre.html

The simple solution is to teach your children to never post ANYTHING personal on the Internet. Using the School’s snooping programs as a Bogeyman is an easy tool to use in making your point.

Have you seen the statistics about how many CHILDREN are posting nude photos of themselves online? Raise your hand if you think those photos are still private. Now consider how many of those kids want their photos seen by School Staff.

Yeah.

“Anything posted to the internet ought to be assumed public.”

Damn straight. Kids need to learn this NOW… and so do most parents.

filiusdextris | April 27, 2016 at 10:42 pm

“That’s all well and good, but what students do outside of school isn’t the concern of the school.” For better or for worse, the federal courts have been building up a different standard starting with Morse v. Frederick (Bong Hits 4 Jesus) at the Supreme Court and coalescing around a “sufficient nexus” standard between the off-campus speech and how it relates to the school environment.

Some other recent-ish cases I once cited on a law school paper on the nexus issue were: Evans v. Bayer, 684 F. Supp. 2d 1365 (S.D. Fla. 2010); J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District, 807 A.2d 847 (Pa. 2002); J.C. ex rel. R.C. v. Beverly Hills Unified Sch. Dist., 711 F. Supp. 2d 1094, 1098–99 (C.D. Cal. 2010).

    Kemberlee Kaye in reply to filiusdextris. | April 27, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing. This is great info.

    Milhouse in reply to filiusdextris. | April 28, 2016 at 12:13 am

    Bong Hits 4 Jesus was at a school-organized function, wasn’t it?

      filiusdextris in reply to Milhouse. | April 28, 2016 at 12:44 am

      Kinda, if I remember the facts, it was Alaska, the Olympic torch was passing through, it was definitely school hours, and school staff interspersed throughout keeping an eye on the kiddos. There were enough facts that SCOTUS (Roberts) said, that despite being off-campus, he didn’t have to do any deep analysis as to whether the school had the authority to discipline the drug reference but that normally that would be the start of an inquiry in analogous cases. Such was definitely the procedure with the online case trio I mentioned above.

The progressive fascists who run the schools abuse their authority to impose progressive fascist values and ideology on their students. The goal is to produce good little progressive fascist citizens just as the Nazis and Communists do.

    gibbie in reply to ConradCA. | April 28, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    This is a bit harsh. The government monopoly bureaucratic schools are the way they are because they are run by a government, making them a bureaucracy, and as a monopoly, excluding market forces and choice. The people who run them range from good to rotten.

    “Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools” (Chubb and Moe) explains this quite well.

nordic_prince | April 28, 2016 at 10:39 am

Today: “Mental” illness.
Tomorrow: Thought crimes.

If only the schools spent time teaching academics. If only the schools were more obsessed with conveying information than collecting data on students and their families. Those who can’t seem to do their jobs always find things to do to look busy. This is a waste of time and money and is an intrusion into family privacy. The next move will be to make students wards of the state.

    gibbie in reply to showtime8. | April 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    I used to think that way. Then I realized that the problem was me. I didn’t attach a high enough priority to the wellbeing of my children to take them out of the government school system and provide otherwise for their education. Those who don’t have children can help parents who can’t afford private school. Churches can create or support Christian schools. Etc.

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